ONCE spring arrives, I start to think of picnics. Once the Easter holidays arrive, we should all be in a position to meet up in small groups outside, although a quick peek at the weather forecast does not look promising; I am always surprised at how often we get snow at Easter.
However, I have been spending my time during lockdown reading books, lots of them, and have been re-living my childhood through the likes of Enid Blyton’s ‘Famous Five’.
Written during post-war austerity, her books are full of picnics, simple but delicious nonetheless; cold ham, crusty bread, hard-boiled eggs, cucumber sandwiches, and of course, ginger beer.
The origins of ginger beer go back to the colonial spice trade, using spices from the East and sugar cane from the Caribbean. A naturally fermented product, ginger beer originally contained up to 11%abv., until the 1855 excise tax laws.
Here are some favourite brands on offer, which are vegan friendly and gluten free.
Breckland Orchard Ginger Beer with chilli – £1.60 (275ml.)
This family-owned business produces a subtly spicy, classic ginger beer, with a peppery punch delivered by the chilli.
Cawston Press Ginger Beer – £1.40 (330ml.)
A cloudy ginger beer, mixed with apple juice, giving a mellowing effect on the ginger, adding clean, sharp acidity.
Belvoir Organic Ginger Beer – £2.56 (750ml.)
Another cloudy version, less fizzy than some, with forward citrus and herbal notes layered with warming ginger spices.
Dalston’s Ginger Beer – £1 (330ml.)
The initial citrus and a slight bitterness from the lime gives way to an intense ginger spiciness.
Luscombe Hot Ginger Beer – £1.45 (270ml.)
The ginger hit in this is intense and long lasting, complementing the initial twang of orange peel and lemon citrus.
Franklin & Sons Ginger Beer – £2.69 (750ml.)
Originally a Victorian family business, their ginger is fermented with malted barley for five days, halting the process before the sugar turns to alcohol. With a distinct brown bread smell, the barley flavours are quite prominent.
Fever Tree Ginger Beer – £1.19 (200ml.)
A well-balanced beverage with a fragrant aroma and warming spices.
Old Jamaica Ginger Beer – 40p (330ml.)
Shamelessly sweet and fizzy, with a long, spicy finish.
Fentimann’s Ginger Beer – £1.25 (275ml.)
A traditional botanical drink with fermented herbal extracts. Fiery and packed full of flavour.
Many of the available ‘branded’ ginger beers are too sweet for me, but old-fashioned homemade ginger beer is inexpensive and easy to make, taking just 3 days from start to finish. The yeast consumes the sugar as it ferments, so although it tastes sweet, it is low in sugar. As it is full of antioxidants, ginger is known for cleansing the body of toxic chemicals and has been used as a natural remedy for upset stomach and nausea, and as an anti-inflammatory, for centuries. Studies have also shown that fresh ginger fights several types of cancer cells.
- Peel and grate 50g. of fresh ginger and place into a large saucepan.
- Add ½ tsp. cream of tartar, 60ml. fresh lemon juice and 1 litre of water.
- Bring the mixture to a boil.
- Turn the heat down, add 7oz. granulated sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
- Add a further 1 litre of cold water and allow it to cool to around 75’F (23’C).
- Add 1tsp. active dried yeast and stir well.
- Cover the saucepan with a clean kitchen towel and place in a warm, dark place for 3 hours; it will smell gingery and yeasty
- Using a fine strainer, strain the liquid into a large jug to remove the ginger
- Pour the liquid into a clean 2-litre plasticbottle (this is important as a glass bottle is likely to shatter as the pressure builds up) with a screw top. Do not fill the bottle up to the top – you need to allow room for fermentation to take place
- Place the ginger beer in a warm dark place for 2 to 3 days (for a sweeter drink, ferment the ginger beer for 1 to 2 days only, or use more sugar). It is important at this stage to carefully loosen the top (without fully opening the bottle) to relieve some of the pressure, several times a day. After 24 hours, you will notice yeast bubbling on top of the liquid and settling at the bottom, which is normal.
- Once it has finished fermenting, you can drink the ginger beer as it is or add fruit, syrup, juice, or your favourite spirit to create your own mix.
If bottling the ginger beer in glass bottles, allow it to lose most of its fizz first; it will continue to carbonate in the bottle, and this could result in an explosion if there is too much pressure.
Over the holidays, what better way to entertain children than to read a favourite book and then enact the scene?